Emeritus Professor Michael Clyne

Emeritus Professor Michael Clyne

Michael with Farzad Sharifian

michael-clyne-4Michael George Clyne, AM, FAHA, FASA, who died on October 29 2010, was a leading scholar and an inspirational figure in many fields of linguistics, including sociolinguistics, pragmatics, bilingualism and multilingualism, second language learning, and intercultural communication. He was a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.

Michael was born 12th October, 1939 in East Prahran and was educated at Caulfield Grammar School. He then studied for his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees at the University of Melbourne, focusing on Germanic and French languages. He undertook further graduate studies in German and general linguistics at Utrecht and Bonn Universities, before joining the teaching staff in German language at Monash University in 1962. He was awarded his Ph.D. from Monash in 1965; this was the first doctorate awarded by the Faculty of Arts at Monash. Michael remained at Monash until 2001, and was appointed Professor of Linguistics at the University in 1988. In 2001 he became a professorial fellow of linguistics at Melbourne University and director of the university’s Research Unit for Multilingualism and Cross-Cultural Communication (RUMACC). From 2005, he renewed his association with Monash University, where he held the title of Emeritus Professor.

During his career at Monash and Melbourne, Michael carried out research across many areas of linguistics with a particular emphasis on bi- and multilingualism, intercultural communication and language policy. He published numerous books and articles (28 authored, co-authored and edited books and over 300 articles and book chapters) of research in areas of linguistics, particularly in the field of bilingualism. The books include Language and Society in the German-speaking Countries (CUP, 1984), and its sequel The German Language in a Changing Europe (CUP, 1995), Community Languages The Australian experience (CUP 1991), Pluricentric Languages (ed, Mouton de Gruyter, 1992), Inter-Cultural Communication at Work (CUP, 1994), Undoing and Redoing Corpus Planning (ed, Mouton de Gruyter, 1997) Dynamics of Language Contact (CUP 2003) and Australia’s Language Potential (UNSW Press, 2005). 

michael-clyne-1Michael saw earlier than most people that multiculturalism in Australia could be a model of social integration for modern societies and his commitment to research was accompanied by an equal commitment to ensuring that the findings of his research informed government policies. In addition to his own research, Michael supervised more than twenty doctoral students during his career, inspiring many young people to follow him in researching issues around language and society. He gained the admiration and affection of his students and his colleagues with his exceptional scholarship allied with an unfailing courtesy, a willingness to listen to any point of view which was put forward with sincerity, and an unlimited interest in mentoring others to achieve to the best of their abilities.


In addition to his appointments at Monash and at the University of Melbourne, Michael was also a Visiting Professor of Linguistics at both the Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg the University of Stuttgart and the University of Verona, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich. Michael also served on the editorial boards of thirteen journals. He spoke fluent English, German and Dutch, and had also studied French, Italian, Swedish and Norwegian.

Other awards included: Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and the Arts, 1st cl., German Cross of Merit 1st cl., Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, the international Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm Prize (as the most outstanding Germanist of the year). Michael was made a Member of the Order of Australia on June 13, 1993 “for service to education, particularly in the field of linguistics.”

michael-clyne-6Although Michael’s health had declined in recent years, his appetite for intellectual adventure was undiminished. In the last two years, he inspired and participated in an innovative interdisciplinary project at Monash which explored the potential of older foreign language speakers in our community to act as a resource for younger language learners. This project continued Michael’s career-long interest in foreign language learning and in community languages, but it also opened new avenues in exploring how the language skills of community members could be valued and how that process might contribute to healthy aging.

One sentence from the short biography which Michael provided for his official webpage provides a wonderful summary of his life’s work: “I am passionate about languages and giving everyone the opportunity to become multilingual and to fully understand the way in which language is used for good and evil purposes.”
Michael is survived by his wife Irene Donohue Clyne and their daughter Joanna.

(Prepared by Simon Musgrave, Farzad Sharifian, members of the Language and Society Centre, Monash University and members of RUMACC, The University of Melbourne)

For more information on the Michael Clyne prize please visit this website.